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From the editor: Nehemiah at Prayer

J Grant

How often have we determined to seek a better prayer life and then failed? It seems difficult to bring our praying to a satisfactory level, and if we find that we are not able to pray more in accord with the Scriptures, failure soon grips us. The prayers of Nehemiah are worth considering.

Nehemiah was able to pray spontaneously. When faced with sorrowful circumstances or when confronted by his enemies Nehemiah was given to prayer (1.1-4; 2.4; 4.4; 4.9; 5.19; 6.9,14; 13.14,22,29,31). For him it was not something which was left until he was alone. Certainly he prayed alone, as we can see from ch.1, but he was given to prayer when circumstances required it. They were silent prayers. He prayed in the presence of others and his prayers were silent. What men did not hear, however, was clearly heard in heaven. His words were not voiced audibly, but they were words that reached God.

Note the introductory prayer (1.4-11). The longest prayer of Nehemiah is found in the first chapter of his book. That prayer is for the way to be opened up for the Jews to return to complete the rebuilding of Jerusalem. After that the prayers are short. This was the daily prayer routine of a busy man, praying as each crisis arose and as each circumstance unfolded.

Nehemiah was anxious to hear the report of his brother Hanani who had returned from Jerusalem (1.2). He was advised of the lamentable state of things there and as a result he was driven to prayer. Notice the moods of the prayer in view of the sad condition of the children of Israel.

He knew the God whom he was approaching - He who keeps covenant and mercy with them who love Him (1.5). To love without obeying would be unthinkable; to obey without loving would be unprofitable. Night and day he prayed and he included himself in the sins of Israel. They were sins which "we have sinned against thee" (1.6). He was not only aware of his own involvement, but he was intelligent enough to understand that these sins were against the Lord. In this he took the place of the prophets who also identified themselves with the nation.

The plea of Nehemiah to the Lord was not based on sentiment, but on the firm rock of Scripture. He goes back to the word of God to Moses (Deut 30.1-10) - if the people return to the Lord He will gather them again (1.9). Although Nehemiah does not mention his own longing to go back to Jerusalem, it was clear that he did have a desire to return. He now claims the promises of God (v.11) for the present, and what God promised hundreds of years before he now asks Him to fulfil.

Note prayer in relation to opportunity (2.4). What a remarkable prayer this is. He stood before the most powerful man on the face of the earth and acknowledged that there was One who was even more powerful. This short prayer has lessons for us.

He was instant in season and out of season. It is noteworthy that his very first reaction was to pray. The command of the king may well have caused lesser men to forget prayer, so overcome would they be by this opportunity, but Nehemiah realised that he would be fitted to say the right thing only after prayer. We do know that his prayer was effective.

The prayer was addressed to the God of heaven (2.4). This title is used in the book of Genesis but is not used again until the book of Chronicles and after the captivity. It is an acknowledgement by Nehemiah of the fact that Israel had forfeited her unique power for God and was under discipline.

Note prayer in relation to opposition (4.4; 4.9; 6.9; 6.14). There was opposition, and how it had to be countered is a lesson to be learned from these chapters. There was no carnal response. Arms were not taken up to attack those who conspired against them. There was watchfulness, for not only did they pray, they also watched for the enemy.

For Nehemiah his prayer life was vital, so also is ours. Pray morning and evening, and in between pray quickly and quietly, whenever necessary.


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